04/21/2003 11:00PM

No champ, but not short on action


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Kentucky Oaks won't have the champion 2-year-old filly from last year - but that's about all it won't have.

Although divisional champion Storm Flag Flying will bypass the May 2 Oaks following her runner-up finish at 1-5 in her seasonal debut last week at Aqueduct, there are a dozen or so 3-year-old fillies preparing to clash in what should be another highly competitive renewal of the Oaks. Most of the fillies already have arrived at Churchill Downs, and as usually occurs at this time of year, racing fans are starting to realize that the Kentucky Derby isn't the only intriguing 3-year-old race around the corner.

Favoritism in the 129th running of the $500,000, Grade 1 Oaks appears likely to tip toward Elloluv on the basis of her 3 1/4-length victory in the April 5 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, but solid support also seems assured for Santa Catarina, Lady Tak, and My Boston Gal. Many of the Oaks prospects have been out for serious work in recent days, including Lady Tak, who on Monday had her second work since finishing second as the favorite behind Elloluv in the Ashland. Lady Tak went six furlongs in 1:13.20.

"I really like the way she's doing," said Steve Asmussen, trainer of Lady Tak. "I thought maybe she'd come out of the Ashland a little timid after the way she'd been beaten, but that hasn't been the case. I'm very confident with the way she's acting. We're taking her into this race feeling good about our chances."

My Boston Gal, who snapped a two-race losing streak with a sharp victory in the recent Stonerside Beaumont at Keeneland, breezed five furlongs Tuesday in 1:01.40.

"It was just a maintenance work, something to keep her happy and keep her moving forward," said Ian Wilkes, assistant to trainer Carl Nafzger.

Lady Tak and My Boston Gal will have final tune-ups early next week, as likely will be the case for most in the Oaks field.

As of Tuesday, Churchill racing officials were listing at least 10 fillies as definite for the Oaks, with another three possible. Those ready to run are Atlantic Ocean, Bird Town, Elloluv, Go for Glamour, Holiday Lady, Island Fashion, Lady Tak, My Boston Gal, Santa Catarina, and Yell. The possible starters are In Case of Wind, My Trusty Cat, and Tempus Fugit.

In other works Tuesday, Go for Glamour went a half-mile in 50.60 seconds, and Island Fashion went six furlongs in 1:12.80.

Bob Baffert, who won the 1999 Oaks with Silverbulletday, trains two of the top Oaks contenders in Santa Catarina and Atlantic Ocean. Asked how he might assess his chances of winning this year, Baffert said he did not have a very good idea of how his horses rated.

"Except for maybe the Derby, I really don't ever evaluate how a race is shaping up," said Baffert. "I've got enough stuff to worry about with my own horses."

Woodford Reserve a tough call

Identifying the standouts in the lone Grade 1 turf race of Derby weekend, the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, figures to be an especially difficult task. There's a simple reason for that: there just don't seem to be any obvious standouts in the North American turf division.

With Anticipation, the 8-year-old gray gelding who has won multiple Grade 1 turf races, is the most recognizable name among the prospective starters in the Woodford, but he has not raced since the Breeders' Cup Turf. At the moment, With Anticipation is one of only seven horses that Churchill officials are listing as probable for the Woodford, although when it becomes apparent just how wide-open the race could be, the size of the field probably will approach the turf-course maximum of 12 starters.

Besides With Anticipation, the prospects for the 1 1/8-mile Woodford are Century City, Honor in War, Kappa King, Perfect Drift, Requete, and Rouvres.

Sarava may be near return

Baffert is being noncommittal regarding a comeback spot for Sarava, the Wild Again colt who was injured shortly after winning the Belmont Stakes last June. But Gary Drake, the Louisville resident whose New Phoenix Stable owns the colt, said Sarava probably would return to action "in the next few weeks."

Sarava was trained by Ken McPeek when he won the Belmont at 70-1, the longest winning odds in the race's history. Sarava was being pointed to the Dwyer and Travers when he was diagnosed with a knee injury that did not necessitate surgery but did require about 120 days off. During that down time, Drake announced that Baffert would be the colt's new trainer.

Sarava has been on a steady work schedule of about every six days since mid-January.

* Champali and Posse, two of the top challengers to Midas Eyes in the Derby Trial, both worked five furlongs Tuesday, going in 59.60 and 1:00.20, respectively. Led by Midas Eyes, about six 3-year-olds are expected for the one-mile Trial, which helps open the Churchill spring meet Saturday.